Blue Jays: How the Seattle Pilots helped baseball come to Toronto

Colin Reid
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BBA-BLUEJAYS-MARINERS-ICHIRO / DAN LEVINE/GettyImages
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Who would have thought the Toronto Blue Jays being awarded a franchise had roots in Seattle and Milwaukee?

The story starts with the Seattle Pilots. "The Seattle who?", you ask? The Pilots were awarded an AL franchise in 1968 with plans to begin playing in 1971.

Due to various circumstances, including the creation of the Kansas City Royals, that date was moved up to 1969. With only one year to prepare and only a minor league stadium to play in, the club was doomed from the start. The Kingdome, the eventual home of the Pilots, was approved, but yet to be built.

With only a year prep time, they started play in 1969. Their record in year one was 64-98. Ownership was not rich by MLB standards. The season was a financial disaster and Milwaukee wanted a team. The Pilots and a Milwaukee group, led by then-car salesmen and former owner of the Milwaukee Braves Bud Selig, made a deal that was challenged in court.

The move and the creation of the Brewers was not approved until six days prior to Opening Day in 1970. The "Brew Crew" played the first part of the season with the old Pilots uniforms with new crests, and Brewers team colors today are a modified version of those colors.

So how do the Mariners come into the picture? Lawsuits, and lots of them, between the AL and various Seattle and Washington State entities suing the AL for breach of contract, and as with so many lawsuits, there were no winners except the lawyers, who were rumored to have bought many mansions and private jets with the proceeds.

They settled on the courthouse steps in 1976, with Seattle being awarded another franchise, the Mariners, to begin play in 1977.

Awarding only one franchise would have the AL with an odd number of teams and an unbalanced schedule. Toronto had been angling for a franchise for some time, nearly becoming the Toronto Giants at one point. Ultimately, the big money ownership group of Labatt, Webster and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (or "CIBC") were awarded the offsetting franchise.

At the time, United States President Gerald Ford put pressure on Major League Baseball to give Washington, D.C. an expansion club instead of Toronto. At that point, Washington had been without an MLB team since 1972, when the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers.

Despite the rumors that Washington, D.C. was in fact going to get Toronto's American League franchise and Toronto was going to get an NL club, nothing ultimately came of this.

With Toronto officially approved as the second expansion club of the 1977 season, the Blue Jays name was picked in a drawing that the team held in a "name the team" contest.

So that's how the Pilots, the Mariners, the Brewers and the Blue Jays histories are intertwined. Sort of like the muse about the weather: A butterfly wing fluttering in Brazil ends up causing a tornado in Kansas a month later.

dark. Next. Is there a trade to be made between the Blue Jays and Red Sox?

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